Tonic Immobility

 When hiking in our country you have to take precautions to avoid confrontations with the grizzly bears that roam our national forest and wilderness and the Fish, Wildlife and Parks continue to transplant more each year. Should you encounter an angry bear that ends up attacking, and you don’t have bear spray or a firearm, they recommend that you curl up and “play dead.” (Want to come and hike with us this summer?!)  

     If you live along the ocean, such as on the south shore of Maui, you have other predators to watch out for, namely sharks.  So what do you do in case of a shark attack? Well, have you heard of shark “tonic”? It isn’t a serum that prevents shark attacks or a medicine to give them to make them more docile. The whole term is “tonic immobility,” which is described as “a natural state of paralysis which animals enter, often called “animal hypnosis.” Sharks can be placed in a tonic immobility state by turning them upside down. The state lasts for an average of 15 minutes before it recovers. Imagine, a dangerous shark can be made vulnerable simply by turning it upside down. The state of tonic immobility makes the shark incapable of movement. So, if you are attacked by a shark, just physically invert it and you’ll have 15 minutes to escape!  (Warning: It doesn’t seem to work on all types of sharks!).  
     Some animals can also “play dead” when threatened by a predator. This is called “thantosis.” The hog-nose snake, for example, rolls on its back and appears dead when attacked, its body even emitting an odor that indicates it is dead. But the animal most famous for pretending to be dead when threatened is the Virginia opossum, thus the term “playing possum.”
     Sheep have an interesting thing that can happen to them. They are built in such a way that if they fall over on their side and then flip onto their back, it is very difficult for them to get up again. They flail their legs in the air, bleating and crying. Like the shark, they are in a state of “tonic immobility.” After a few hours in this position, referred to as being “cast” or “cast down,” gas begins to collect in their stomach, which hardens, cutting off the air passage and the sheep will eventually suffocate and die if the shepherd doesn’t get to it in time. The Psalmist David, who spent thousands of hours tending sheep, wrote in the beloved Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd…He restores my soul” (vv. 1,3).  When a shepherd “restores” a cast down sheep, he massages its legs to restore circulation, gently turns the sheep over, lifts it up and holds it until it regains its equilibrium.
     A sheep is most vulnerable to being cast down when its wool is long and matted with manure and burrs, and thus weighted down. When it lies down close to a little dip in the ground, the sheep may, because of the extra weight, roll over onto its back in the dip.  What a picture of how we as Christians often get weighted down with sin and are susceptible to being cast down and like the shark and the sheep, put into a state of “tonic immobility” by the power and consequences of sin. That’s why the author of Hebrews challenges us to “Lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1,2). If we are to run the race of the Christian life effectively, we must deal with sin before it immobilizes us. 
     We can also become cast down because of adversity in our life and the resulting discouragement, despair and depression. We find ourselves either figuratively or literally (or both) flat on our back, immobilized and unable to carry on. David experienced that condition, both from his own doing as well as the actions of others. He wrote on one occasion, “Why are you in despair (cast down) , O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (Psa. 42:5a).  But David had also experienced the gentle hands of the Good Shepherd restoring him. He went on to write in Psalm 42: “…Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence…The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life” ( vv. 5b,8).
     If you’ve been cast down for any reason, God, the “Good Shepherd,” is the only One who can help you get on your feet again. He will restore your confidence, your joy  your strength, and your effectiveness for Him. Like David, you can again praise Him for His help and His presence and lovingkindness. He will put a new song in your heart (cf Psa. 40:3).
                        Forever His,
                            Pastor Dave
P.S. If you haven’t read the classic, A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23, by Phil Keller, you would really enjoy it.  

About Pastor Dave

Until my retirement 2 years ago, I pastored an independent Bible church in Northwest Montana for nearly 38 years. During that time I also helped establish a Christian school, and a Bible Camp. I am married and have children and grandchildren. The Wisdom of the Week devotional is an outgrowth of my desire to share what God is doing in my life and in our world, and to challenge you to be a part.
This entry was posted in Wisdom of The Week. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s